Addition of Walesboro bus route requires solid support

The ColumBUS transit system provides a valuable service to local residents, transporting them around the city via five fixed bus routes Monday through Saturday so they can get to work, run errands and make it to scheduled appointments. That’s a bargain at the standard rate of 25 cents per trip.

If some riders get their wish, Columbus’ transit system — which provides more than 200,000 rides annually — will expand beyond its current routes that cover all directions of the city.

The Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) is being asked to add more bus routes. One suggestion is running a route south to Walesboro to help people get to their jobs in the industrial parks. Another is to extend lines north to Edinburgh for access to the outlet mall and Johnson County lines that can then take riders to Indianapolis.

We’re in favor of a bus-line expansion to give more potential workers a ride to and from their jobs at Walesboro manufacturing sites, such as Woodside Industrial Park, as long as demand and economic conditions warrant it. The idea came up during then-Mayor Kristen Brown’s administration but was not pursued because of cost factors.

Expansion of bus lines is possible, however. The city added a west-side route in May 2015 — its first major expansion in about 50 years. The route takes riders along Jonathan Moore Pike, Goeller Boulevard and Two Mile House Road and as far west as County Road 350W.

A 2013 study of public transportation needs of residents showed support for the west-side route, and federal and state funding helps defray costs to local residents.

The current suggestions to expand bus routes is part of ongoing discussions of the city’s long-range transportation plan, which CAMPO uses to secure federal funding for transportation projects throughout Columbus and Bartholomew County.

Resident feedback gleaned from three public open houses during the summer and at the Bartholomew County 4-H Fair is being used to assess five transportation scenarios — one of which is adding bus routes.

There is merit in the idea of adding a route to Walesboro because of the heavy concentration of manufacturing companies located there and their need to attract more workers to fill available jobs. Transportation can be a major hurdle for potential employees, and offering a route that gives them a ride to and from work has the potential to make a big difference.

However, adding a route first must have clear and sufficient support, based on feedback collected earlier this summer. Even then, it must be shown to be financially viable.

If adding a Walesboro route helps manufacturers fill open positions, perhaps they would be willing to subsidize some or all of the cost for such a route.